Sweat drips down my dreadlocks and onto my face as I watch Khaya dribble the ball across the hard, dry ground of the patch of land behind Du Noon. The first few hot days of summer have dried the mud and made it perfect for practicing.
My eyes narrow in concentration as I watch Khaya sweep down the field and take aim. He stops, looks up at me and then sends the ball sailing overhead in my direction. It goes slightly wide and I have to scramble to make ground before jumping, swooping in toward the ball headfirst and smashing it between the two bricks that form the goal.
“Laduma!” Khaya whoops as he runs over to me. We touch fists and hug.
“Nice header, Nathi,” Khaya grins.
Despite our newfound friendship, I still feel a bit weird when Khaya compliments me. But I’m slowly getting used to it. He’s turning out to be a good friend, even though he can still be a little rough around the edges – especially when he doesn’t get his way.
“All right, all right!” the Professor laughs, walking over to where we’re still celebrating. “You’d think you two had just scored the winning goal in the World Cup!”
Today the eccentric old man is wearing a check shirt and a cowboy hat.
“We did,” I smile, tapping my forehead, “even if it was only in our imaginations.”
“Imagination is good,” the Professor chuckles, “as long as it doesn’t get in the way of mastering the fundamentals.”
The old man’s brow furrows.
“Nathi you’ve got to get more height in your jumps. I want you to work on building more explosive power in your legs.”
“I’ve told him that,” Khaya says with a smirk.
“And you, Khaya,” the Professor says, “You’ve got to be able to pinpoint Nathi in the box. If there had been a defender marking him, Nathi would never have reached that ball.”
Khaya looks like he’s about to argue, but then scratches his head and nods. I can’t help myself from smiling again. My one-time rival may have changed, but he still doesn’t like criticism.
‘Right I think that’s enough for today,” announces the Professor.
“What?” I’m totally into the practice and could keep going for hours. “But we still need to work on shooting!”
The Professor smiles. “We’ve already been at it for three hours Nathi. Trust me – don’t overdo your practicing. You must play because you love the game, not because you’re obsessed with it.”
I’m about to argue when out of the corner of my eye I spy a beautiful pair of legs approaching. I look up to see it’s Rose walking towards us, barefoot and in a short summer dress.
“What’s up superstars?” she says, her brown eyes twinkling as her gaze meets mine. “Have you heard the big news? Mr. Naidoo has hired a professional coach for Streetskillz.”